Puffin Patrol

Photo Credit – Charles J. Sharp

It’s puffin season! I suppose any season is puffin season, but right now the pufflings are fledging. You read correctly – baby puffins are called pufflings. Puffins are sea birds, and breed in colonies on islands in the North Atlantic. They winter on the open ocean, spending 9 months at sea. But during breeding season, the birds return to the rocky islands to mate, often with the same mate in the same burrow. In May or June, the female lays one egg and both parents take turns incubating it. After the chick hatches, both parents take turns keeping the hungry mouth fed. About seven weeks later, the puffling is ready to leave the nest.

Puffins use the moon and the stars for navigation toward the sea. But then there’s light pollution. Sea turtles aren’t the only one affected. Many pufflings are misguided by artificial light and instead of flying out to sea, they fly inland where they are not only confused, but up against a myriad of challenges. Enter the Puffin Patrol.

It began in 2004 when a German couple recognized the problem on their annual visit to Witless Bay, Canada. They began to rescue the pufflings using butterfly nets, flashlights, and gloves. Soon enough they were joined by local kids and their families, and other Newfoundlanders. In time the media got wind of the story and the news spread. Then tourists began booking vacations during Puffin Patrol to be part of the effort. In 2011, the couple partnered with the Canadian Parks and Wilderness Society (CPAWS) to expand the program, increase education about light pollution, and include other nearby communities in the patrol. Every year hundreds of pufflings are rescued and released to begin their journey in the right direction, toward the open ocean. It’s on my bucket list to be a part of the Puffin Patrol one summer!